Robert L. Strickler

For his outstanding engineering and administrative skills demonstrated in the development of strategic missile systems and now applied to radioactive waste management, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Robert L. Strickler.

President and General Manager
TRW Environmental Safety Systems Inc.
BSAE '60, MSAES '62, PhD '68

On a summer job and a turning point

As a college student I sought out summer jobs on my own. That turned out to be the most important thing I did in those years. After my junior year, I got a job with North American Aircraft in Columbus, Ohio, walked into a room on my first day-and there was a sea of drafting tables as far as the eye could see. People with gray hair were drawing landing gears. I thought, "Gee whiz, what on earth have I gotten myself into?" I knew that I wanted to do something broader than that, and that's the point when I decided I was going to go to graduate school. In later years, working at Aerojet General, I was able to pull together various disciplines I'd worked in at Purdue, and I realized that there was a name for what I enjoyed doing: systems engineering.

On politics and government service

I'm interested in politics; I was even when I was in grade school and high school. One of the things that still blows my mind to this day was the time in 1959 when President Hovde dismissed classes at Purdue so that we could listen to a young Senator from Massachusetts give a talk in the Hall of Music. Of course that was John F. Kennedy. I listened to him speak for an hour on making a commitment to government service-and that got me interested in government service.

Twenty years later I was appointed a congressional fellow and had the opportunity to work with Senator John Warner of Virginia for the U.S. Senate armed services committee. My job was to review the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviets. I spent a good portion of my time on that, providing Warner and the committee advice on the equities and inequities of the treaty and reviewing Pentagon proposals for research and development in strategic offense and defense weapons systems.

That was an interesting year. You see how hard those people-the Senators and their staffs-actually work. It's amazing, completely different from the perception held by probably 99 out of 100 Americans. I came away with an extreme admiration for what those people do. I toyed with the idea of staying on in Washington in a different capacity; I even drafted the speech that Warner gave in the 1980 keynote address to the Republican Convention-but I ended up going back into industry.

On his career and current challenges

At TRW I was responsible for advanced weapons systems on the strategic missile program, which required an understanding of many disciplines and an interest in discovering what were the most important things to do to provide advances in strategic capability. I ultimately became responsible for the entire program in 1992. That was when I became vice president and general manager of the ballistic missiles division, a position that entailed providing the Air Force leadership for the intercontinental ballistic missile program. We had a very successful record with the Air Force with that program-there's a lot of pride in that.

I took on my current job about a year ago, running a wholly owned subsidiary called TRW Environmental Safety Systems. We provide radioactive-waste m anagement for the Department of Energy. This new challenge of finding a place to put radioactive waste is really important. Twenty-two percent of the electricity in the U.S. is produced by nuclear reactors, and the fuel rods used in those reactors last only about three or four years. There's nowhere to store them until we get this project done. We have to guarantee that the proposed site beneath Yucca Mountain, Nevada, will be safe for one million years. It's a high-tech job figuring out how to demonstrate through analysis and proof-of-principle tests that this will be a safe thing to do.

On his Purdue education

I owe my career to my Purdue education. Without it I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've had-there's no doubt about that. Purdue is a great experience.

1995- :
President and General Manager, TRW Environmental Safety Systems. TESS manages and operates the Department of Energy's Civilian Radioactive Waste Management program.
Vice President and General Manager, TRW Ballistic Missiles Division. Led systems engineering, design, test and evaluation, development, and sustainment team for U.S. Air Force on the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program s.
Assistant General Manager, TRW Ballistic Missiles Division. Assisted general manager in managing TRW's largest systems engineering program: ICBM development and sustainment. The acquisition team working with the Air Force received recognition for developing systems under cost and on schedule that met or exceeded requirements.
1980-84, 1985-90:
Manager, Advanced Missile Systems Operations, TRW Ballistic Missiles Division.
Manager, Strategic Defense Initiative, TRW Defense Systems Group. Responsible for TRW's leadership of nation's initial strategic defense initiative ("star wars").
Congressional Science Fellow, office of Sen. John Warner. Provided technical assessment of Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and strategic offense, defense, and BM/C3I R&D programs.
Principal Director, Concepts and Plans, The Aerospace Corp. Defined advanced strategic concepts and identified technology development paths for the Advanced Ballistic Reentry Systems program.
Associate Group Director, Concepts and Plans.
Director of Systems Analysis.
Manager, Reentry Vehicle Technology.
Member, technical staff, The Aerospace Corp.

BSAE '60, MSAES '62, PhD '68, Purdue. Stanford Executive Institute Program.